This Spring my Mom asked me if I would come up with a design for her planter and of course I said “YES!” While scrolling through the internet for designs for her planter, I was inspired by some creative wooden crate animal planters and thought “why not do something like this in dinosaurs?” That’s how the Jurassic Park in my front yard got started.
My first dinosaur design was for a brontosaurus. I tried to keep the first one as simple as possible. With my minimal power tool knowledge and the intent to make more later on, I didn’t want to design something so difficult that would discourage me to make more in the future. Luckily, with A LOT of help from my Dad, the first dinosaur was a success! Then, we worked on the next one and that ended up being a stegosaurus. This time I knew how to use some of the tools, so I had a little less help from my Dad. This made me happy because that meant that I was learning and made my Dad happy because it meant he didn’t need to help me as much.
The third dinosaur creation was a pterodactyl. As the pterodactyls was the first flying dinosaur creation, this one was a little more challenging. My plan was to make it both a bird feeder and planter and I struggled getting my design idea across to my Dad. He was taking the literal size and looks of a pterodactyl and couldn’t see the vision. Through lots and LOTS of dialog the pterodactyl was brought to life!
The fourth dinosaur was probably the most highly anticipated creation of the bunch…the tyrannosaurus rex! Please note that I had been sharing the progress of the dinosaurs on social media and had some specific requests asking for this one. Like the pterodactyl, we encountered some logistical issues when trying to piece it together. I knew that with the t-rex being the only stand up dinosaur I was going to need to make sure that the tail and two legs were balanced so it didn’t tip over in the strong Nebraska wind…but how to balance them was the question. Thanks to my Dad’s woodworking knowledge, we made the tail extra-big so and just made a couple notches in the tail to make it more secure. Then, we used that same notching technique with the head too.
Last, but not least, the triceratops was made. This one took some finagling to create. The crate and the tail were easy enough to place and create, but the head and horns required some innovative design. We decided to create a head piece with a horn on the nose, a back pointy head piece, and two horns: all separate pieces. The pointy-head piece and the head piece with the horn were connected via a notch and then the horns were screwed on before the head was fully put together.
Now, you might be wondering how I made all of these creations? I’d come up with the all the dinosaur ideas in my head, then I would draw them out so I could follow the design throughout the process and my Dad could at least somewhat understand what I was trying to create.
For those of you that don’t know, wood is insanely expensive right now. The prices have skyrocketed within the last few months. So, most of the wood was not purchased. It was taken from various free pallets collected at multiple places around my hometown. Please note, taking apart pallets takes forever if you don’t know have the right tools or know what you’re doing. My Dad and I used a tool that he had specially made for prying wood pieces apart more easily and efficiently than a hammer. Sometimes the pallets were so used that we would have to saw along the edge to have a fresh side and so we could avoid prying the edges with multiple nails. Plus, it’s bad to run nails through the saw so doing this prevented future sawing issues. Once they were all separated, I took out all of the loose nails and staples that I could. What I couldn’t take out I sanded down with a grinder so the protruding nails wouldn’t cause problems for the sander. After the nails were all safely removed and grinded down I sanded the wood for easier handling and to make the painting easier and last longer.
Next on the agenda was to figure out the sizing of the dinosaur. I wanted relatively large dinosaurs, but this could be done on a much smaller scale too if that is your preference. The wood was measured and cut to the various lengths for the crate. For the t-rex, I think my pieces were 10.5” and 12” long. This gave the dinosaur a square look that would turn into a rectangular cuboid look when all put together. To do this, I needed 6 – 10.5” long pieces of wood and 8 – 12” pieces of wood. These pieces were cut out using a miter saw. Then I figured out how tall I wanted the body of my t-rex to be. I think it was around 21”. After the height was figured out we cut 4 – 21” square wood dowels about 1” width. The dowels were left over pieces from a project my Dad had been working on and they cost me nothing. Free – woo hoo!
After our first dinosaur, we figured out that squaring was not as important since this was a fun artistic project that didn’t need to be as exact. We’d nail gun the 10.5” pieces to two 21” dowels first and repeat with the others, making sure everything was in line. Then six of the 12” pieces were staple gunned in line with the 10.5” pieces on the connecting part of the dowel and covering the 10.5” piece end making it square shaped. (Note: the other two 12” pieces are to put in the t-rex to be able to hold up the planting containers.) During the process, we made sure everything was flush and even. Once we had a piece that could stand on its own. As long as nothing looked super off we’d continue with the opposite side of the crate, doing the same thing. Once the ends were stapled on, we’d work on the middle. The middle pieces didn’t always workout perfect because some of the boards were warped or we hadn’t squared so we’d have to make sure everything fit before stapling everything together. We’d either have to hammer the other sides to make it work or cut off a little bit of an end so the wood pieces weren’t sticking out. If any of the nails went through we’d grind of the ends of the nails so they wouldn’t protrude and make painting harder.
After the crate was fully put together, the next step was to make the head, tail, legs, and tiny arms. This was done by tracing out the shapes on some scrap pieces of wood that my Dad had from various projects. When tracing out these shapes I recommend drawing them in pencil first and then hold them up against the crates to make sure the parts are proportional to the dinosaur. Make sure to leave a little extra neck room for the head of the t-rex as you will need to make a notch in it so it will stay. Once you’re sure you have the proportions right, go over the pencil tracing with a marker so you can see the lines better when you saw. Clamp whichever piece you want to cut out first then carefully saw around the lines with a jig saw. When all of the pieces have been cut out, sand the rough edges to make painting easier.
Putting on the legs, tail, head, and arms can be the more difficult part and might require an additional set of hands to put together. We put on the legs and tail first to make sure the dinosaur could stay upright. This was done by finding some spare wood pieces and placing them on ground and putting the crate upright on top. Then I’d check if the legs and tail were in the correct place and I’d add or remove boards to make the legs be in the correct location. When everything was in the correct spot we notched the tail so it would fit in between the two back bottom crate pieces. (Note: It’s always best to cut less than what is measured when you mark for the notches, then cut more as you go. You can always take away, but you can’t add.) Once everything was set we’d clamp the legs and tail to the crate, make sure the bottoms of the tail and legs were flush with the ground so they’d be properly balanced when they’d be freestanding. After verification of balance, we’d nail gun the pieces together. Next was the head. We measured out a section to notch on the head so it would connect into place with the top of the crate and then cut out the notch. After checking to make sure everything fits into place and looked good, we screwed the head onto the crate. I recommend two people for this part because clamping the head is nearly impossible…unless you have the strength and dexterity of Thor. Last were the arms. To make this simple all we did was clamp it on the edges and then nail gun to the sides.
Finally, the t-rex should be in full form…except when I did the t-rex I made a mistake and forgot to put on the arms. I ended up having to cut them out and add them a week later. Now comes painting time. You can use outdoor, indoor, or acrylic paint for this. I used a variety of different paints, indoor and outdoor, leftover from different projects. Paint type is not important; however, it is important that you use an outdoor polyurethane after it has been painted. If the paint you have been using is oil make sure to use an oil based outdoor polyurethane and if it’s water based use a water based outdoor polyurethane. We used the water based for both the paint and polyurethane. I put on one to two coats of paint and 2-3 coats of polyurethane, depending on if the paint was outdoor or indoor. And voila!
If you’d like to purchase these planters, I’m happy to oblige! Just know they will be on the pricier side due to the planters taking me at least one full day to make. Plus I’d want to support my Dad too, since it was his tools/supplies I was using.
For a planter already created I’d sell them $75 each. This is because they’ve already been out in the elements a while, and although they still look good, I have no idea how long they will last.
A custom made planter (i.e. your choice of dinosaur and color) would be $100 each. I would even be happy to paint a face on the dinosaur if you so desire.